How to Support Emotional Regulation in Your Teens

Written by: Jessica Gross, M.A.
How to Support Emotional Regulation in Your Teens

What is emotional regulation you might ask? Emotional regulation is the “ability to exert control over one’s own emotional state.”

It is quite common for teens to struggle with emotional dysregulation due to the flood of hormones rushing through their bodies. Additionally, the teen brain is slightly to blame as well.

Teenagers face a unique challenge: their limbic system, which processes emotions, matures earlier than the prefrontal cortex, responsible for self-control and reason. This developmental imbalance can lead to impulsive and emotional behavior. But there’s hope! Helping teens learn emotion regulation skills can bridge this gap. Here are some tips for parents and caregivers that might be most helpful…

1) Teach your teens to label their emotions: To manage an emotion, you must first be able to name it. Consider asking them:

a. How are you feeling both physically and emotionally right now?
b. What emotions did you experience today?

2) Invite your teens to be mindful and curious about their emotions: Inviting your teen to be curious removes the fear that emotions are scary and unmanageable. We want to avoid teens feeling like their emotions are too overwhelming to process. Consider asking:

a. Why do you think you are feeling that specific emotion?
b. Have you felt this way before? If so, when?
c. Where are you feeling this emotion in your body?

3) After identifying the emotion, help them to identify the thoughts that lead to that particular emotion. It is helpful to identify thought patterns that may be contributing to negative emotions. Consider asking them:

a. What kind of thoughts are you having?
b. What’s going through your head?
c. What are you telling yourself?

4) Empathize and validate your teens’ emotions: This teaches your teens that their emotional reactions are natural and nothing to be afraid of. Hopefully this leads to your teen feeling understood and cared for by you. Consider telling them:

a. It’s okay to feel ______.
b. I understand why you feel _____.
c. It makes sense that you feel _____.

5) Lastly, engage your teen in discussion about how to best manage their emotions. Consider using coping skills like:

a. Breathing exercises
b. Muscle relaxation exercises
c. Positive self-talk
d. Meditation and mindfulness (becoming aware of the 5 senses)
e. Short periods of distraction time to “re-set” their focus
f. Encouraging adequate sleep, exercise, healthy diet, and abstaining from alcohol or drug use

As parents, you play a large role in shaping your child’s emotion regulation skills. It is important for you to model healthy emotional regulation, as that provides a valuable example to your children. How do you expect your children to have those skills if it is not being modeled in the home?

Follow Dr. Becky at Good Inside for great parenting insights, Home – Good Inside.